Chapter 4: Stories to Educate

It's National Storytelling Week, to celebrate we're waxing lyrical about the way excellent, creative and thoughtful storytelling can take your marketing from an 8 to a 10. In Chapter 4, we look in more detail at stories to Educate. Read the other chapters, on stories to Entertain here, and Inspire here.

We, as humans, have utilised the power of storytelling to educate others for thousands of years. Although, traditionally, educational stories have focused less so on emotions, and more so on tangible facts, that doesn’t mean to say they are any less compelling than other means of storytelling.

PR, which works hand-in-hand with marketing (and arguably, you shouldn't do one without the other, but we'll come back to that another day!), is an excellent way of educating your audience through storytelling. By engaging the right journalists, bloggers and influencers, and encouraging them to share your multi-faceted brand story, you are one step closer to stimulating the minds of your audience.

These days, it isn’t enough to simply have a brand mission statement, though. Consumers expect more from the brands they follow. They expect to feel empowered, positive and motivated to change for the better. One brand that manages to combine both emotional and educational storytelling, empowering their audience as a direct result, is Patagonia.

In late 2016, Patagonia launched Vote Our Planet, which (in their words) is “a major environmental campaign urging Americans to vote to elect officials, and support referendums, that will defend our planet’s air, water and soil.”  Now, for those that aren’t familiar, Patagonia design outdoor clothing intended for the likes of climbing, surfing, skiing and snowboarding.

Through launching a campaign with a cause, Patagonia went beyond the traditional brand story. Natasha Geiling, a climate reporter for ThinkProgress, agrees: “In the past decade, and especially [in 2016], Patagonia has started to do more than simply sell great, sustainable products. They’ve begun to position themselves as an emissary between environmental politics and their customers, bridging the gap between consumers who enjoy the outdoors, and a planet in dire need of help.”

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What’s so great about Patagonia’s Vote Our Planet campaign, is the fact that they have explored the campaign on a local level, which of course allows their customers to feel as though they, personally, are part of the story. By highlighting local issues (relevant to the campaign, of course) and putting on community events, Patagonia are ensuring they stay relevant, and at the forefront of their customers’ minds. Which, by the way, all makes for an excellent PR story…

So, what can we as arts and culture organisations learn from Patagonia?

Always be interestING (to your audience) and interestED (in your audience).
— Laura Rothwell

Firstly, really get to know your audience; find out what they care about, and are passionate about. As Crystlsd’s Founder, Laura Rothwell, so often emphasises: be interesting (to your audience) and interested (in your audience). It is only by engaging with your audience; having those conversations; asking questions and actively listening to the answers, that you can truly craft stories that matter to them. Patagonia have done it by getting involved in the issues that matter to those who fit within their brand values. How will you do it?

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"Actively listening to your audience is not the same as crunching the numbers from audience feedback forms," Laura elaborates, "in fact, active listening could be a full-time job. Aspects of active listening include focus groups, questionnaires, or audience feedback events - think creating a group of diverse audience members and incentivising them to discuss and critique your organisation, perhaps free annual membership or even a high-street voucher, investing a couple of hundred pounds in your target market will pay dividends, provided you are then able to draw out tangible actions for improvement. 

Social listening is another important tool to understand what your audience is saying about your organisation, your sector or specific hashtags and keywords. Social Listening is not the same as Social Monitoring; monitoring deals with the day-to-day, replies, RTs, mentions that are in the now and listening is about extracting tangible, broader, strategic insights that can help you better understand your customers."

In practice, for arts and culture organisations this could mean tapping into what families are looking for in a day out, for example; is it low-cost, is it accessibility, is it car parking, locker spaces, kid-friendly activities? In isolation, someone might complain about a lack of car parking on Twitter (social monitoring) but if your audience is collectively looking for convenience when it comes to parking, social listening can help you ascertain that.